Indian Point’s last nuclear reactor will be shuttered on April 30, and its power will be largely replaced by natural gas, despite Governor Cuomo’s promise to reduce fossil energy use. Cuomo announced four years ago that Indian Point, located some 25 miles from New York City, would be phased out. At that time, the plant was producing about one-quarter of New York City’s power. The governor’s plan then was to have 50 percent of the state’s energy generated by renewable sources—wind, solar, and hydro power—by 2030. In 2019, the target was raised to 70 percent by a new state law. One of Indian Point’s two working reactors was permanently shut down last summer, increasing the share of the state’s power from natural gas-fired generators to about 40 percent in 2020, from about 36 percent in 2019. The share of the state’s power from renewable sources increased slightly, to 30 percent in 2020, with hydroelectric providing almost 20 percent of the state’s total net generation.
New York is planning to build new renewable generating sources, including over 2,000 megawatts of solar power as well as at least 9,000 megawatts of offshore wind by 2035—projects that will take years to complete—to get the state on track to meet its goals. While power generated by onshore wind turbines is a growing source of electricity in New York, most of the state’s onshore wind farms are so far from New York City that the energy they produce does not reach the downstate grid that the metropolitan area relies on.
Until more renewable energy is built, the state will need to rely on its natural gas-fired plants to meet over half of its energy needs, as it did last summer. In July 2020, the share of the state’s electricity that was generated by natural gas-fired plants jumped to 56 percent from 49 percent in July 2019.
Once the second reactor at Indian Point closes, the metro New York City area will be even more dependent on its gas-fired generators. It is anticipated that fossil fuel plants in the metro New York City area would need to increase their output by as much as one-third. If there is a shortage of natural gas due to weather or other unanticipated events, New York plans to import from neighboring states or switch to oil in its dual-fired generators. In 2019, about three-fourths of the state’s natural gas-fired capacity had dual-fuel capability and those units were able to burn petroleum products, including kerosene. New York has been known to burn oil in its generators when natural gas prices have spiked.
Dependency on neighbors has not proved fruitful for some weather-related problems. Last August, California did not have much luck importing power from its neighbors during a heat wave that ravaged the surrounding area.
Consolidated Edison built the first reactor at Indian Point and put it into service in 1962. Both the reactor that was shut down last year and the remaining reactor each produce nearly 1,000 megawatts of power and 13 percent of the state’s electricity in 2019. Indian Point’s closure will have measurable impacts on the local economy, including the loss of high-paying jobs and tax revenue. The plant’s shutdown threatens $32 million in annual contributions from Entergy, the current owner, including $24 million that goes to the local school board. Further, Entergy will have to permanently lay off over 300 workers at Indian Point in May. The plant has 770 workers, down from more than 1,000 at its peak.
The New Jersey-based company that is buying the plant, Holtec, plans to keep about 300 of Entergy’s employees there, of which a third, will be members of the Utility Workers Union of America. Holtec plans to place the plant’s spent nuclear fuel into dry storage on the 240-acre site and dismantle the reactors.
Federal Decision to Nix 2 NY Offshore Wind Farms
The federal government’s decision to nix two wind-energy areas off of Long Island, New York from an upcoming offshore lease auction removes the second biggest wind-energy area in the region. The U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management announced that two wind-farm areas, Fairways North and Fairways South, would not be offered in the round of auctions that could take place by year’s end. According to the agency, the Fairways North and South areas are not being considered for leasing at this time due, in part, to conflict with the proposed tug and tow fairway, maritime traffic concerns, commercial fisheries and commercial viability. The statement indicated that “they may, however, be considered for a future sale and remain wind-energy areas” to be reviewed in an environmental assessment this year.
By eliminating Fairways North, the federal government removed 1,071 megawatts of capacity from the total 9,800 megawatts expected from the waters between New York and New Jersey. Fairways North, totaling 88,246 acres, would have been the second largest of five major sites originally planned for those waters, located 15 miles from shore. Newer turbines that approach 800 feet tall are visible at 15 miles from shore where some of the most expensive homes in the nation are located in East Hampton and Southampton. A previously state-awarded project called Empire Wind is still planned for 15 nautical miles from the shore in Nassau County, near Long Beach.
Shuttering Indian Point will hinder Cuomo’s plans to remove fossil fuels from the state’s generating sector, at least until solar and wind farms are built to replace the natural gas generation that will need to be used instead of the nuclear power from Indian Point. The Indian Point closure results in lost jobs and tax revenues for New Yorkers, and could result in problems for the state to deliver reliable and affordable electricity for its residents. Further, the federal government has recently put a damper in the state’s offshore wind plans by not including two areas off the coast of Long Island in its offshore auctions this year.